This is a rundown of the top six players you need to watch in 2016, based on their compelling storylines in 2015.
7. Jamie Vardy, Leicester
The narrative surrounding Jamie Vardy’s record-breaking exploits earlier in the season has well and truly dissipated, but now in 2016, there are still two major question marks.
Firstly, will he make the Euro 2016 England squad? Roy Hodgson likes him, and with Daniel Sturridge’s persistent injury troubles, in addition to Danny Welbeck’s long-term absence, he’s in with a great shout if his form continues.
Second, will he get a big move? B/R’s Dean Jones detailed in December how Vardy is in line for a big new deal at the King Power Stadium, but with a new line of limited edition crisps already under his belt, could his head be turned?
6. Romelu Lukaku, Everton
Romelu Lukaku’s dramatic upturn in form in 2015-16 has not gone unnoticed. Everton have placed a £45 million price tag on his head, per the Daily Mail, in the face of interest from Paris Saint-Germain, and both Manchester United and Juventus have taken a look at him, per the Express.
He’s already past the 10-goal mark in Premier League play this season, emerging as a reliable goal-scoring figure once again after a genuine down year in 2014-15. He’s feasibly looking at a 20-25-goal campaign, and is there well worth the money.
Whether Lukaku breaches the famous goal mark, and where he plays his football from summer onward, are intriguing storylines to monitor.
5. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester
Riyad Mahrez’s performance over the first half of the season has been utterly phenomenal; the level at which he is playing has prompted serious questions about where he might find himself playing football as soon as January.
Any top club in need of a dynamic, attacking wing talent should pay serious attention to his rise, and the way with which he schooled Cesar Azpilicueta during Leicester City’s 2-1 win over Chelsea proved he can do it against the very best. Will he go off the boil, his star fading, or will he secure a huge move?
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG
Throughout his long career at the top level, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has always been worth a watch due to the remarkable things he’s able to do on a football pitch.
But golazos and flicks aside, the Swede enters 2016 with his future undetermined—could he make one last big move, could MLS land him, or will he retire at Paris Saint-Germain?—and the European Championships will probably be his last major international tournament. We’re running out of time to savour Zlatan’s heroics. Savour these moments while you can.
3. Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema’s name has been populating tabloid headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, with his sex tape scandal involving Mathieu Valbuena casting a shadow over France’s Euro 2016 preparations. Will the Real Madrid man be part of Didier Deschamps squad? Will the situation be resolved in time for the tournament? Per the Independent, he’s been suspended while the investigation continues, and the FFF president has sided with Valbuena.
It’s difficult to see France lifting the trophy on home soil without the presence of their only elite striker.
2. Paul Pogba, Juventus
Despite Juventus’ marked improvement over the past few months, battling back from a shocking start in Serie A, it should seem fairly obvious to Paul Pogba that they’ve hit a glass ceiling in world football. Contesting with Barcelona in the Champions League final last season was a remarkable feat, but that won’t happen on a consistent basis.
It opens up the distinct possibility of a big move this coming summer, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich likely all in for his services should the Italians name an affordable price. There’s every chance he’ll break the world record transfer fee mark set by Gareth Bale in 2014. Why wouldn’t you want to keep tabs on that storyline?
1. Neymar, Barcelona Neymar has a genuine chance of breaking the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo Ballon d’Or duopoly in 2016, be it by winning the award in January, or excelling across the year and landing the 2017 edition in 12 months time.
His performances over the past year or so have been absolutely brilliant, and his excellent, in conjunction with Luis Suarez’s goal-scoring knack, is the chief reason Barcelona barely skipped a beat during Messi’s injury in late 2015. No one other than Messi or Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or since its inception in 2010, but that could be about to change. That makes him our most pertinent storyline and No. 1 to watch in 2016.